Gaza is home to a dense population – approximately 2.3 million people in a stretch of land 25 miles long and 6 miles wide. Normally, most Gazans can’t leave this enclave. It has become the world’s largest open-air prison.
Since Saturday October 7th Israel has dropped more than 6,000 bombs in Gaza, something it proudly boasts. No regrets. But on Friday October 13th, in northern Gaza, for a moment the bombs stopped; in their place hundreds of thousands of leaflets silently floated to the ground.
It was an eerie sight. Starting as white specs against a pure blue-sky, they floated over damaged rooftops and glided past destroyed buildings, before landing on blackened debris and smashed rubble and blood-stained streets. For a moment you could be fooled into thinking angels were descending from heaven to collect Gaza’s murdered. But not even angels are permitted into this part of besieged Palestine.
The leaflets were an eviction order notifying the residents of North Gaza and Gaza City, approximately 1.1 million people, to move south beyond Wadi Gaza, a river valley in the centre of Gaza.
Gaza City is the most populated city in the Palestinian state and emptying it is like asking the US to vacate New York. And in the way that New York is symbolic for Americans, Gaza City holds an emotional significance in the Palestinian psyche. Abandoning this place will be traumatic – staying will be fatal. This heart-breaking choice has plagued Palestinians for generations and is responsible for shrinking their homeland to a meagre twenty-two percent of its pre-colonised self.
The cycle of violent land theft and forced eviction of Palestinians began in 1948 when Palestine was partitioned displacing between 750,000 to 1 million Palestinians, or about 70% of the Indigenous population. The partition was carried out under the auspice of the United Nations and would probably be considered illegal today as it was ‘contrary to the will of the Palestinian people and their natural right to their homeland, and inconsistent with the principles embodied in the Charter of the United Nations.’ This catastrophe, or Nakba in Arabic, is commemorated every May 15th. In the most bizarre twist, the United Nations itself began commemorating the Nakba in 2023 so it could memorialise the ‘mass displacement of Palestinians from their homes in 1948 that coincided with the founding of Israel.’ The irony of such a gesture seemed to be lost on all but the Palestinians.
Hanan Ashrawi is a Palestinian politician, legislator, activist, and scholar. She has drawn praise from Mary Robinson, the former United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights, and from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and she is vocal about the injustices inflicted on Palestine and its people. In 2001 Ashrawi gave a speech at the United Nations where she explained how the Nakba wasn’t in fact a single event but a process which holds Palestine hostage to the persistence of colonialism, apartheid, and racism. She called this the ‘on-going Nakba.’
Yesterday Israel ordered the part evacuation of another sovereign state; Palestine is recognised by 137 out of a 193 countries, and did so through threat and intimidation. It is forcibly displacing a population towards Gaza’s already heavily crowded southern border. Beyond that border is Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula – an expanse of desert, largely vacant of inhabitants. It’s tough terrain and would make for harsh living. And it’s the sort of place where people are easily forgotten.
On Friday September 23rd of this year Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke at the United Nations General Assembly. About halfway through his twenty-five-minute speech he raises a map. It is A3 in size and outlines the Middle East. The territory of Israel is marked in solid black and completely consumes Gaza. It’s like Gaza never existed. A land and its 2.3 million people vanished.
I always hoped Ashrawi’s nightmare of a never-ending Nakba was metaphorical, but I worry it’s about to be enacted again – this time across the Sinai Peninsula. I wonder how the United Nations will commemorate this catastrophe in the coming years?
©2023 Sul Nowroz